The Community of West African States (ECOWAS), while favouring the path of dialogue, gave the green light to an armed intervention against the soldiers who took power on July 26 in Niger, by activating its " standby force".
But experts doubt the feasibility of a high-risk and difficult-to-implement military operation. The "standby force" is mandated by ECOWAS for missions related to peacekeeping. It has already been deployed in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Gambia.
However, ECOWAS "has never agreed on the type of specific missions that these forces should carry out", explains Marc-André Boisvert, researcher and consultant on the Sahel affiliated with the Center FrancoPaix in Montreal.
The establishment of such a force "depends on the will of the contributors", which "requires a lot of negotiations between the countries", he says. However, "there is a lot of mistrust between the countries" of ECOWAS according to him.
Senegal, Benin, Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire have said they are ready to send troops, but face internal criticism and hesitation from other West African countries.
"Basically, the African standby force was not designed to restore constitutional order in a country where there was a putsch (...) African states are very jealous in general of their sovereignty and especially in the security and defense affairs", says Elie Tenenbaum, of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).
In addition, "It is difficult to release personnel in these armies which are fragile and lack means" , according to him. For the time being, only Côte d'Ivoire has specified the number of troops it would be ready to commit to such an intervention, ie a thousand men.
"Such an operation should mobilize 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers," said Senegalese General Mansour Seck. The strength of the Nigerien army is estimated at around 30,000 men, including some 11,000 deployed in the theater of operations, said President Bazoum in 2022.
Mali and Burkina Faso have also warned ECOWAS against any intervention in Niger, which would be likened to a " declaration of war". But doubt remains as to the ability of their armies to reinforce the Niamey regime, while their soldiers are struggling with armed jihadist groups on their own territory.
All the experts agree on the difficulty of carrying out such a military operation in Niger or in its capital. A land offensive would force West African forces to travel several hundred kilometers over hostile territory, and an air operation on the presidential palace where the ousted president is being held raises just as many doubts.
In the latter case, Niamey airport could be of strategic importance in order to deploy airborne troops, according to analysts.
The ECOWAS chiefs of staff "want to take Niamey airport and bomb the presidential palace, but we have modern anti-aircraft defense that is capable of shooting down their aircraft", assures Amadou Bounty Diallo, analyst and former Nigerian soldier.
For General Seck, "the airstrip is easy to occupy by the putschists, they just need to put thousands of young people there", on whom the pilots will not be able to shoot to free it. “It will not be a simple military operation (…) Getting bogged down is one of the risks involved, it also depends on the determination of the people on the spot,” he said.
The 700 men of the presidential guard, spearhead of the coup, constitute the hard core of a potential resistance, but the combativeness of the other units of the Nigerien army in the event of intervention is debated.